Graze epitomizes Madison’s food scene

I’ve lived in Madison for more than six years and have been trying to hit all of the best restaurants, but for some reason I hadn’t been to Graze on the square yet. It had been on my list since moving here but it never worked out to go – there were always other options that worked better. So when my mom came in to town this fall I decided a Friday night dinner at Graze was in order. They don’t take reservations so we got there around 5 to make sure we got a table! It was already humming then and the best tables near the front windows were taken. We got a small table in the middle of the room pushed up against other tables for two, but the view is mostly the same from the entire dining room.

graze deviled eggs

Graze deviled eggs

There are a lot of things on the menu that Graze is known for, so going into the meal I had an idea what we’d be ordering. We ordered the deviled eggs and fried pickles for appetizers. I was hoping the deviled eggs would be something special or a spin on the traditional Wisconsin deviled eggs. The Graze deviled eggs were good but nothing special. The thing that would make them worth ordering again was the mustard sauce they were sitting on. It added a great flavor to the rich deviled eggs.

graze pickles

Graze fried pickles

Though the deviled eggs were less than spectacular, the fried pickles lived up to their hype and then some. The pickle chips were perfectly fried and came in a large serving. The batter was not too light or too heavy – it was perfectly salty and crispy. The dill ranch dressing was the perfect dipping sauce for the perfectly-greasy fried pickle chips! I love fried pickles and these are ones to keep going back for!

graze beet salad

Graze roasted beet salad

My mom and I like dessert a little less than the average person so we decided to split the roasted beet salad before our main meal instead of getting a dessert. The salad was a perfect choice! It comes with roasted pistachios, Sartori MontAmore cheese, roasted beets and mixed greens topped with a light vinaigrette. We both love beets so this salad was perfect. I was surprised at the large amount of the premium toppings – the beets, pistachios and Sartori cheese! I can’t say enough about this amazing salad – the pistachios added the perfect crunch to the soft roasted beets and the crunchy greens. The Sartori cheese was perfectly sharp and paired well with the light vinaigrette! I will probably be making return trips just for this salad!

graze mussels

Graze moules frites

I got the moules frites f0r my main course. The mussels were perfectly cooked with a great fennel and white wine sauce. The light sauce paired perfectly with the super salty and amazingly crispy fries. The fries were served with a garlic aioli and I absolutely loved them! It is a very simple dish but it was prepared perfectly!

graze sausages

Graze sausage, eggs, veggies

My mom got a dish with house-made sausage, sauteed kale, sweet potatoes and cauliflower, and a sunny-side up egg. The dish also came with hot mustard for the sausages. Everything was cooked perfectly and it got my mom to like sunny-side up eggs for the first. It wasn’t anything too special but it was very good.

FOODNOTES: The view alone sells Graze as the place to go when spotlighting Madison as a food-loving town, but some of our choices added to the great night. The deviled eggs and both of our entrees weren’t anything too spectacular but our fried pickles and roasted beet salad were top notch. The fried pickles top my list of best fried pickles I’ve ever tried and will definitely be ordered again! But what will bring me back, other than the view and tempting other dishes to order, is the roasted beet salad! It was simple but spectacular! Prices are what you’d expect for a funky bistro across the street from the Capitol. I would suggest getting there early unless you don’t mind waiting 40 minutes for a table.

Cookhouse offers takeout with local ingredients

cookhouse sign

cookhouse

front counter

Based on the size of the Jordandal Cookhouse this blog should be super short but I have a surprisingly large amount to say about this tiny take-out restaurant in Verona. Jordandal Farms is known in the Madison area for locally-raised meat that they sell at farmers’ markets. But last year they opened a takeout restaurant in Verona that I have been excited to try for a while. It is a small little entry-way  in a strip mall with a chalkboard menu, a front counter and two large coolers. The chalkboard menu lists a couple different options (mostly sandwiches) that all come with a side.

cookhouse menu

menu board

There were a couple intriguing options but I have a thing for braunschweiger, so I couldn’t pass up the braunschweiger sandwich. It comes on rye bread with red onion, cheese and sweet and spicy mustard! That’s the exact way I make my braunschweiger sandwiches except I add tomato. For those of you who don’t know what braunschweiger is – it is a type of liverwurst that definitely takes an open mind and requires an acquired taste to enjoy it, but for some reason I love it! Most store-bought braunschweiger is kind of greasy and doesn’t have a great flavor, but every once in a while I find a good one that is lean and has a good combination of spices. The braunschweiger at the cookhouse is just that – lean with a great flavor of spices! It was a great sandwich and the mustard was the perfect compliment for the strong braunschweiger flavor. I will definitely be back for this sandwich!

cookhouse braunschweiger

braunschweiger sandwich

cookhouse burger

patty melt

My mom got the patty melt that comes on rye bread with bacon, mayo, caramelized onions and cheddar cheese. The sandwich was a nice size and had a good amount of ingredients on it, but it was dripping in grease. They must butter both pieces of bread before they toast them, making it so greasy we couldn’t taste the onions, cheese, mayo or bacon over the dripping butter. After I got sick of eating butter slathered bread I took it apart and ate the pieces separately, and to my surprise the beef patty was very good. The burger was nice and juicy but not greasy itself, and had a great seasoned flavor. The patty melt could be a fantastic sandwich if they would reconsider the amount of butter used to toast the bread.

cookhouse sides

sweet potato salad, cheese and salami

For our sides we chose a cold sweet potato salad and salami/cheese. The cheese and salami were very fresh and as far as we could tell (and with some digging from the girl working at the time), the salami is nitrate free. The cheese was a sharp brick cheese that matched the dry salami perfectly. The sweet potato salad was interesting. It was slightly mashed sweet potatoes with onions and some small pieces of bacon with a slightly sweet flavor. I’m not sure what they use to flavor the salad but I really liked that it was doused in dressing.

cookhouse sandwiches

wrapped sandwiches

FOODNOTES: The biggest thing to remember is that this is a carry-out place. There are no tables inside, but if it is a nice day out/summer, there are some picnic tables outside you can use. The girl working said the cookhouse also sells packaged meat and serves as a pickup location for meat orders. If you go, avoid the patty melt because the amount of butter they use overwhelms all of the other flavors. If you’re up for it…try the traditional Wisconsin braunschweiger sandwich. Some of the dinner specials listed that day (we couldn’t get them because we were there at lunch) looked very good; they had house stew, Wisconsin mac and cheese, and brisket — all worthy of being ordered I’m sure! Another interesting thing about the menu are the different culinary influences present – they have Korean BBQ and pork tacos on the daily menu. I’m not sure you could go wrong with any of their sides, but they do offer a homemade butterscotch pudding I’d like try next time I’m there. Prices are slightly higher than average but remember, you are paying for locally-raised meat on your sandwiches or for your dinner. Also, this isn’t a very vegetarian-friendly place, but they do offer a grilled cheese and their mac and cheese without the sausage.

Macro bowls: Big taste, big flavor, small calories

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Macro bowl pin on pinterest

In my quest to be healthy and eat healthy I found a recipe for Macro Bowls on Pinterest about a month ago. Well, it wasn’t really a recipe, it was more of an idea to make lunches for your work week with five or six really heathy ingredients put together. I’ve been cooking food for the week all at once since I’ve lived by myself in college, but the idea of a macro bowl was new to me. I usually make a dish – lasagna, turkey meatloaf, something in the crockpot – and pack sides like an apple, veggies, etc. The website I found on Pinterest basically says to cook up two vegetables, a starch, a bean and a protein. They used kale, sweet potatoes, black beans, quinoa and tofu. Other than making lunches super easy, the goal of a macro bowl seems to be making lunches super tasty and healthy too. I’m not sure on the calorie count of the macro bowls on the website but it couldn’t have been very high.

macro bowl 4

macro bowls

When I decided to try making macro bowls I didn’t follow their recipe. I just focused on what super healthy ingredients I actually like and my favorite flavors (garlic, olive oil). My first set of macro bowls had sauteed kale with zucchini, onions and garlic, quinoa cooked in water with garlic salt, sweet potato wedges roasted with olive oil and garlic, and some low-fat chicken sausage cooked with black beans and garlic. The sauteed vegetables were super easy and very tasty. The quinoa added a good base for the dish. Sweet potato wedges are one of my favorite foods! Most people eat them sweet with sugar or brown sugar, but I think they are best with a little garlic salt and olive oil. For the chicken sausage I peeled off the casing and cooked the chicken like it was ground beef with the black beans. I layered all of these different pieces in to-go lunch containers and had five lunches for the week.

macro bowl 1

quinoa, sauteed kale and zucchini

macro bowl 3

chicken and black beans, sweet potato wedges

As for the details: I used one pan to cook the three stove-top layers and then roasted the sweet potato wedges in the oven, which was great because who likes to do dishes!!?? When I divvied out the ingredients I measured how much was going into each bowl so I could plug that information into my calories app on my phone to see what I was eating in numbers. According to my app, each bowl I made had 280 calories and 22 grams of protein. I work nights so my “lunches” are actually my dinners and typically you want to eat a high-protein low-calorie dinner to keep you full but not weigh you down. The best part of the macro bowl was how easy it was. The longest part was cooking the quinoa – it takes about 20 minutes on the stove, but now you can buy precooked quinoa that you just have to heat up, so that could decrease the time it takes to make the bowls.

macro chicken

chicken, peppers, black beans

macro bowl attempt 2

macro bowls with squash, brussel sprouts, chicken, kale

For my second attempt at making the bowls I eliminated the quinoa (mainly because I didn’t have any in my cabinets). Instead of chicken sausage I sliced up chicken breasts and cooked them with onions, spicy banana peppers, garlic and black beans. Instead of sweet potato wedges I steamed a small butternut squash and then mashed it with garlic and olive oil – very similar in taste and health benefits! I made the kale the same way but instead of including zucchini I steamed some brussel sprouts sprinkled with garlic salt – I love brussel sprouts! My second attempt took less time because I didn’t make the quinoa, and I still only used one pan to limit the amount of dishes. This time, my macros had 225 calories and 17 grams of protein.

macro bowl 5

macro bowls to go

FOODNOTES: The goal of a macro bowl is to make lunches super easy and super healthy. The best part about the macro bowl is you can make it however you want. If you don’t eat meat use tofu. If you don’t like kale use broccoli. If you don’t like quinoa use brown rice or eliminate it all together. Macro bowls could also follow different flavor profiles. Obviously I’m a garlic girl but you could make a miso dressing or  a peanut sauce to drizzle over the bowl for an Asian feel – both of those usually have low calories and the peanut sauce would add protein! I love how customizable these are, and that they ideally have less than 300 calories for so much food!

Coffeehouse serves up exceptional espresso, granola

jph sign 2There’s something novel about a coffee shop that brews each cup of coffee to order and serves fantastic homemade food. Johnson Public House does just that. Even the best coffee shops in Madison can’t compete with the neighborhood feel of this near east side coffeehouse. The welcoming and homey space is accented by a large coffee bar, mismatched furniture and local art hanging on the wall. Both times I went to JPH there were half a dozen people visiting and hanging out on their computers. My favorite part of JPH was, what else, their focus on quality coffee!

I have been a coffee drinker since high school. I love most types of brewed coffee, but generally don’t like espresso because in my experience, espresso usually has a bitter flavor. JPH baristas told me they specialize in a cortado – two shots of espresso with a little bit of warm milk added in. I was extremely skeptical about trying one but now I crave them. The cortados at JPH are extremely creamy and have a perfect roasted coffee flavor – no bitterness in sight. I had two the first time I went and wished I had time to get a second one on my second visit! The JPH cortado definitely changed my mind about drinking quality espresso.

jph roast beef breakfast sandwich

roast beef breakfast sandwich

On top of that amazing espresso drink their pour-over coffee is fantastic. I tried a couple different types of coffee they had that day, and all of them exceeded any brewed coffee I’ve ever had. I’m not sure I’d ever pass over a cortado for their brewed coffee but it was very good.

jph breakfast sandwich

JPH breakfast sandwich

They have a small menu of breakfast and lunch sandwich options. I was with a friend and we decided to try their original breakfast sandwich and their roast beef breakfast sandwich. The original breakfast sandwich has a hardboiled egg, local ham, mozzarella, tomato and pesto on wheat bread. I love that the sandwich has hardboiled eggs on it – it makes it very portable and hearty. But the real winning sandwich was the roast beef breakfast sandwich with a hardboiled egg, provolone cheese, local roast beef, sriracha mayo and caramelized onions on wheat bread. The hardboiled egg and roast beef pair perfectly  with the spicy and creamy sriracha mayo and crunchy onions. Sandwiches come with either potato chips or greens. The chips were a good salty addition to the hearty sandwiches but I would recommend getting the greens. The actual greens are a nice, fresh spring mix but the dressing is what makes the side fantastic. I’m not sure what is all in it, but it was a light vinaigrette with small tidbits of salt and pepper throughout. The dressing made those  greens ridiculously good!

jph granola

JPH granola

To top off the great coffee and unique sandwiches, we got a small cup of the yogurt and granola. The locally-made yogurt was extremely creamy and paired very well with the fresh berries. But the shining star of the bowl was the homemade granola. The crispy oats and cashews had a fantastically sweet flavor. I loved the granola so much I asked if they would sell it to go (apparently they are working on it!). On my second visit I even passed up the roast beef breakfast sandwich for a large bowl of the yogurt, granola and fruit – of course I also got a cortado. I can’t really describe why such a simple dish was so good, but the homemade granola and the drizzle of honey on top is probably part of it!

jph sign 1FOODNOTES: If I lived closer to Johnson Public House I would be a very regular customer. If not for the cortados, I would stop in for a sandwich or a huge bowl of the granola. The cortado changed my opinion of quality espresso drinks. It will definitely be difficult to drive through that neighborhood without stopping for my new favorite coffee drink! Their breakfast sandwiches are great, especially the one with roast beef and sriracha mayo. Their homemade granola makes a traditionally simple and unexciting dish exceptional! My recommendation – a cortado and a bowl of granola!

Monk’s doesn’t joke about portion sizes

monks menu

Monk’s menu

For a burger place that originated in the tourist-driven Wisconsin Dells I wasn’t expecting much in the way of quality at Monk’s Bar in Grill. The local chain has four locations – two in the Dells, one in Baraboo and the newest one in Middleton. The fact that the parking lot was almost completely empty on a Friday night in the fall made me nervous, but the waitress told me Middleton High School was playing in some high school football playoff game that night so they had been very slow all night. The menu wasn’t a surprise – mostly burgers and fried appetizers with a couple wraps and salads.

monks pickles

Monk’s fried pickles

I’m a big fan of fried pickles and tend to judge a restaurant on the quality of their fried pickles if they have them on the menu. So when I saw Monk’s had them on the menu I had to get them. There must be some food distributor in Wisconsin that sells frozen fried pickles to restaurants because I’ve had them at a couple different places. Unfortunately, that’s what Monk’s pickles are. They are the same thin spears with the dill batter that any restaurant with hot fryer oil can perfect. They were good (they always taste the same) but disappointing at a local chain. The surprising thing is the order came with a lot more than normal. An order of pickles (if they’re spears) usually comes with five or six; at monk’s you get 10!

monks burger

Monk’s jalapeno bacon burger

For main-meal options, I figured I had to get a burger since that’s what they’re known for and there were a lot of options to choose from. I like spicy food so I got the jalapeno bacon burger, which is an original Monk’s burger (a fancy name for a generic burger) topped with jalapeno bacon, cheddar cheese, grilled jalapenos and spicy ranch dressing. When the burger came out the first thing I noticed was how big it was. The spicy ranch was a good compliment to the grilled jalapenos. The bacon was perfectly cooked and the burger itself was cooked nicely. The burger was so big I took half home and ate it the next day for lunch.

monk's monkey fries

Monk’s monkey fries

The best part of the Monk’s menu is that you can upgrade your side to a premium side of cheese curds, onion rings or monkey fries. The monkey fries appetizer description says they are premium beer battered fries loaded with gooey melted Wisconsin cheddar cheese and crispy chopped bacon, served with a side of ranch – “enough to share.” So when I upgraded my side I was expecting a smaller version of that and hoping the cheese was “gooey” as the description promised. Well…I was wrong about one thing – the size. The plate that came out full of fries was enough to feed three, and the cheese was perfectly melty and gooey like I had hoped. The fries were crispy and the topping was actual melted cheese (not something synthetic and tasteless) with bacon. Other than being overwhelmed by the portion size I was super happy with the upgrade!

FOODNOTES: Don’t go to Monk’s if you want something healthy. If you’re looking for a decent burger and a lot of food – head to Monk’s. This would be a great place for a family to come and split a couple appetizers and upgraded sides for cheap…that’s how big these portions are. I was too full for dessert so I’m not sure if they’re worth it, but based on the frozen, pre-prepared fried pickles, the desserts probably come in the same way. The service at the Middleton location was good but we were one of three tables at the time. I probably won’t be back because nothing was super impressive, but it would be a good spot to watch a game and munch of some monkey fries!

Initiating a new Italian tradition

Recently I decided to try eating gluten free most of the time. I eat 98 percent gluten free at home and try to mostly avoid it when eating out (although I do love food and won’t give up a great meal because it has gluten in it). So when I decided to make lasagna last week I faced the task of making my favorite Italian dish gluten-free and tasty. There are quite a few gluten-free noodle options out there but I wanted to try a healthier option. So I did some research and bought three medium-sized zucchini.

veggie lasagnaThe recipes I read online said the zucchini should be sliced 1/8 of an inch thin and grilled before starting to layer the lasagna. I don’t have a mandolin so my zucchini was a little thicker than they should be. I also don’t have access to a grill so my zucchini slices went in raw. But zucchini has a lot of water in it so I laid all of my slices out on paper towels and sprinkled salt on them to draw the water out. I let them sit for 10 minutes or so and dabbed off the extra water that pooled on top.

I mixed up the regular cheese mixture of ricotta and mozzarella cheese and an egg. For the sauce mixture I used ground beef, a jar of Market Pantry pasta sauce, some fresh sliced Serano peppers (I think I sliced up 3), some italian spices, garlic powder, mushrooms and a little less than a cup of brown rice. I originally planned on using lentils, but I didn’t have any so I used up a random bag of brown rice in my cupboard (to save time – and dishes – I cooked the rice in the microwave). With all of my ingredients I was able to get two full layers and then a random layer of what I had left – I probably should have bought four zucchini and a mandolin so my slices would be thinner.

FOODNOTES: The best part of my zucchini was how good it was for me…my recipe made 12 portions, and each slice had 436 calories and 36 grams of protein! I plan on getting a mandolin in the near future to make my zucchini slices the perfect thickness. I also want to try using lentils like my original plan, but I will definitely be making this flavorful, healthy dish again! Do you have any dishes you change up to make healthier and tastier? What do you think are the best ingredients to use to cut out calories and add in protein?